Grow jobs in the 253 or stay stuck in traffic jam

Destination Seattle? Traffic headed for northbound I-5 could wane considerably if Tacoma capitalizes on its job growth potential.
Destination Seattle? Traffic headed for northbound I-5 could wane considerably if Tacoma capitalizes on its job growth potential. News Tribune file photo, 2014

See that rush hour traffic inching its way north every weekday? Our economy is caught in that traffic jam, and it will only get worse if we fail to make the critical decisions in front of us.

Pierce County sits at a crossroads. Census figures show us leading the nation in the year-to-year increase in the number of people moving here from within the U.S.

Our unemployment rate is shrinking, our property values are rising, opportunities for education have never been better and our labor force is made up of 308,000 well-trained, well-educated workers.

Yet we lose nearly half of our nonmilitary workers to jobs beyond our county borders. Too many of us spend three hours a day (or more) at a steering wheel instead of coaching Little League, eating out at local cafes or volunteering to improve our neighborhood parks.

Worse, every hour spent idling in a car on a freeway fills our sky with greenhouse gases and impacts our environment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s up to us to grow more family-wage jobs right here at home.

As proud members of The Place for Jobs coalition, we stand with our partners in a commitment to build a healthy South Sound economy. We value economic, social and environmental sustainability, and we believe that together we can find solutions that balance these shared values.

Take Taina Padilla Anderson as an example. She graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma in 2015 with a master’s degree in geospatial technologies. Today she teaches a new generation of students at Bates Technical College.

Her students earn two-year associate degrees for careers as civil engineering technologists right here in Pierce County and help build our highways and bridges with their sophisticated computer skills.

Taina’s students are “new collar” workers, equipped for family-wage jobs that fill the crucial technical labor gap with a vocation requiring less than a four-year degree.

All of our industries — including health care, high tech, trade and manufacturing — need our support. The Port of Tacoma alone generates nearly 30,000 jobs.

We need all types of jobs — a diverse economy — if we are going to remain competitive. We need to protect vital job centers such as Frederickson, JBLM, the Tacoma Tideflats and downtown business districts.

The stakes are high: In spite of our shrinking unemployment rate, we still face notably higher joblessness than other Puget Sound counties. According to United Way, 12 percent of our families live in poverty, and another 22 percent struggle to meet their families’ basic needs.

The answer? Family-wage job opportunities close to home.

We’re already making great strides. We’ve made it easier for businesses to grow by streamlining permits through the city and county.

We're making significant investments to improve transportation options. We’re attracting private investment to improve neighborhoods, enhance the quality of life and bring more job opportunities here.

But the work isn’t done. If we’re going to build an enduring local economy, we must hold all community and business leaders accountable for growing jobs here. Ask them what they’re doing to attract, create and sustain jobs in Pierce County: The place for jobs.

Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma and Bruce Dammeier is the Pierce County executive. They are two of the co-chairs of The Place for Jobs coalition.